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A spate of brazen store heists, in which organized mobs have hit stores as varied as Nordstrom, Best Buy, Louis Vuitton and Home Depot, has shaken the retail industry and created fresh challenges for law enforcement.

While large-scale “smash-and-grabs” have been on the rise this year, experts say they hit critical mass in late November, when stores were piled high with holiday inventory. On Black Friday alone, a crew of eight made off with $400 worth of sledgehammers, crowbars and hammers from a Home Depot in Lakewood, Calif.; a group ransacked a Bottega Veneta boutique in Los Angeles; and roughly 30 people swarmed a Best Buy near Minneapolis, grabbing up electronics.

Retail executives and security experts say the rise of such robberies — which have gone viral online and in some cases, spurred copycats — is the culmination of several factors, including a shortage of security guards, reluctance by police and prosecutors to pursue shoplifting offenses, and the growing use of social media as an organizational tool. They also coincide with a pullback from pandemic-era protocols that limited the number of people who could enter a store at one time.

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